Photo: Temple outside Monywa.

Burma forum

American student trying to travel to Burma

Posted by naloring on 23/9/2009 at 10:51

I am a female American college student studying abroad in Hong Kong, and I am trying to travel to Burma while I am here. I do not know anyone who wants to come with me, so I want to either hire a guide or book a tour so I am not traveling alone. I am having difficulty finding group tours, so maybe hiring a guide is better - however, am I correct that Americans must have a booked group tour in order to get a visa to travel to Burma? Also, how safe would it be for me to travel by myself with just a guide? Does anyone have a tour agency or tour guide that they used and would recommend? Is anyone traveling to Burma between now and mid-December who wouldn't mind me joining them?

I am also concerned with my money going to the military, so I want to make sure that I use privately owned hotels and services as much as possible. Any suggestions for how to do this? Does anyone have any tips for finding flights between Hong Kong and Yangon? Is there any other information I should know about traveling to Burma as an unaccompanied woman? Thanks for any help or suggestions.

#1 naloring has been a member since 23/9/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by SBE on 23/9/2009 at 13:52

am I correct that Americans must have a booked group tour in order to get a visa to travel to Burma?

No. An American friend of mine (female) travelled to Burma on her own last January no problem at all and I also met Americans travelling independently when I was there. It's a very safe country ... for tourists. You won't get a visa if you put "journalist" or "photographer" on your visa application form whatever your nationality.

I tried to reduce the amount of money the generals got from me by only travelling by bus and in 3rd compartments on trains. Flying and using first class trains would have no doubt been far more pleasant but it would have meant more of my money going to the govt so I chose the uncomfortable way and I actually rather enjoyed the 3rd class train trips. Hard wooden seats, but not that uncomfortable, much better than some of the long distance buses! I couldn't interact much with the locals though because there was always some guy in military uniform keeping a close eye on me. Nevertheless it was fascinating watching all the buying and selling of different market produce through the windows at each station. The train acted as a sort of ambulant market, great piles of oranges and cabbages around my feet. The countryside was beautiful too... very scenic landscapes.

The most important thing to do is to NEVER change money at the airport or at a bank. I saw one American couple changing hundreds of dollars at the airport when I arrived ... they probably got about 6 Kyat to the dollar (black market rates are about 1000 Kyat to the dollar) talk about giving money to the junta!

Flights. Probably your cheapest option would be to use Air Asia. Fly to Bangkok then get a flight to Yangon from there.

PS. I'm toying with going to Burma in early December. ;-)

#2 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,052
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Posted by SBE on 23/9/2009 at 13:55

PPS. Here are some pictures of my last trip if you're interested.

#3 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,052
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Posted by naloring on 23/9/2009 at 21:08

Awesome, thanks for the info. I love the sound of traveling by bus and train instead of flying in a group, but I am a little unsure of my ability to navigate the country by myself - my Burmese is pretty rudimentary. I was looking at doing Dec 3-9 or in that range - would love to join up with anyone who knows more than I do. Planning this trip is so overwhelming, it's pretty hard to figure out what I want to do. Would you recommend hitting up the popular tourist sites (Yangon, Manadalay, Bagan, Inle) or try to visit rural/out of the way places? Let me know if you are seriously considering traveling in Dec :)

#4 naloring has been a member since 23/9/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by lukebp on 24/9/2009 at 02:30

I understand that it can seem a bit scary traveling to such an apparently "difficult" country such as Burma by yourself, but the truth is you really don't have to worry.

Let me tell you about my experience traveling to Burma by myself. When I arrived in Yangon, on the daily AirAsia flight, there was a man from a guesthouse called the Motherland Inn waiting to offer free rides to his place. Apparently he is there everyday; you will definitely see him. I accepted this offer (the other option being to pay $10 for a taxi
), as did pretty much every other independent traveler on the flight. So before I had even arrived at my guesthouse I had gotten to know about 10 or so other travellers, many of whom were in the same situation as myself. At the guesthouse itself, which was really a fantastic place, I met others, including several people who had just finished traveling through the country and gave me much useful advice for the journey ahead.

Two weeks later I was back in Yangon having met some wonderful people. We ended up flying back to Bangkok together and spending some time together there, and some have become good friends.

I'm sure the same thing will happen for you. So don't worry, and don't book a tour!

As for where you should go, as you only intend to stay for a week, it really depends. Do you plan on doing your travel by bus, or can you afford a flight or two?

#5 lukebp has been a member since 13/9/2009. Posts: 5

Posted by SBE on 24/9/2009 at 05:38

Yes, don't book a tour but if you are only going for 6 days (not sure if those are start dates or the entire trip dates?) then I think you'll have no option but to fly at least some parts of your route naloring. It takes a LONG time to get between the main sites by bus... eg about 22 hours to get to Inle from Yangon by bus if I remember right ... and unless things have changed, they aren't very comfortable buses either. The roads are very bad in places too and we got stuck in Kalaw for 3 days because of a mudslide blocking the road after unseasonal rain.

I was in Burma in December 2005 and I stayed at Motherland 2 as well. The only downside is that it's a bit far from the center of town but I'd stay there again. Like lukebp says, it's a very good place to meet other travellers (but you can meet them in almost every GH in the main tourist areas). The Motherland2 free airport pickup is a definite plus and they got quite a few passengers off the BKK flight I was on. I think I booked the first night in advance but I don't know if it's really necessary? What do you think luke?

If you prefer to stay somewhere else, then the taxis take US$ (repeat, don't change ANY money at the airport) ... I think it used to cost $5 to get into town but I don't know what the going rate is now.

I'd be happy to hook up with you for a bit if you want and we're there at the same time! I'll be travelling on my own too but I'll probably be staying there for at least 3 weeks. I won't be back in BKK till the end of November though and I'll need to get the visa before I go. Does anyone know how long it takes in BKK these days? Last time they were renovating the embassy so it was quite long, 5 days or something. I'd rather not pay any extra for speedy service if I can help it... and not because I can't afford it.

#6 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,052
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Posted by cainyboy on 24/9/2009 at 15:54

Hey Naloring,

I'm also in the same boat as you travelling solo through Burma in January. But by the sounds of everybodys responses there is nothing to worry about. If you go during January I would be more than happy to tag along or vice versa for a bit. Also a student from New Zealand studying Paramedicine.

#7 cainyboy has been a member since 30/8/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by anotherlostsoul on 25/9/2009 at 15:17

You don't need to worry about your safety in Myanmar; it's one of the safest places in the world to travel with exceptionally friendly people.

Your visa should also be straightforward - you don't need to be booked onto a group tour. Either apply by post to the Beijing Embassy or in the city from where you fly onto Yangon. In Bangkok, (for SBE's benefit) it takes 2 working days to issue. In practice, that means apply on a Monday at 9am and you'll pick it up Wednesday at 3pm. It costs 810 Baht (I think)- about US$25. You can pay an express fee of about 1/2 as much again to get the visa same-day and you may have to show your flight confirmation to nudge them into doing it. Bring passport photos and a photocopy of your passport's info page.

Another option is a 'Visa on Arrival'. If you are booking flights / hotels / guides etc in advance via a Yangon agency they will be able to arrange your visa for you too. The visa is stamped into your passport when you arrive. You cannot arrange this yourself.

As for flights, there's nothing direct from HK to Myanmar anymore. Flying via Bangkok would be the cheapest way though it's possible via Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, Singapore and Kunming as well. I would book ASAP for reasonable prices.

If you are only in the country for a few days I would arrange everything in advance. If you're backpacking then you can take your time ... buses etc. This is a BIG country and distances are long and uncomfortable to travel. If you have 3 or 4 weeks that's not such a problem; If you have a week - fly!! You can hire guides by the day in popular areas ... if you would like the same guide for the whole trip that can also be easily arranged but remember, you're paying for her / his flights and accommodation / expenses too. If you need help arranging the trip i'd recommend emailing Mr Myanmar Travel - . Friendly, reliable and use only privately-owned services.

I hope you have a fantastic time.

#8 anotherlostsoul has been a member since 14/9/2009. Posts: 34
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Posted by Qiaokaili on 3/10/2009 at 20:13

I was recently ( this May) in southern China, near the Burmese border and I remember that there were buses from Jinghong, Xishuangbanna going across the border. I have also read many accounts that foreigners are not allowed to go into Burma by land. Is that true ?
Also, can anyone recommend places to go to in the north ? I am also a female american college student studying in China. This is basically visa run out side of China for me, but is it worth it to go there for only a few days ?
If anyone has any recommendations or input, I would really appreciate it !

#9 Qiaokaili has been a member since 3/10/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by think87 on 10/10/2009 at 07:44

Any truth to this?

"Foreign currency exceeding the equivalent of US$ 2,000, jewelry, cameras, video cameras, recording equipment and laptop computers must be declared at the airport. Failure to do so could end up in confiscation upon departure."

just something I think people should be aware of if it is. better to declare it than lose it. :-P

#10 think87 has been a member since 5/3/2009. Location: United States. Posts: 116

Posted by anotherlostsoul on 10/10/2009 at 17:03

Quite true. Many countries have 'declaration' rules such as this, it's not so unusual. Their main concern is that you'll import lots of expensive gear and try to sell it on at a tax-free profit.

#11 anotherlostsoul has been a member since 14/9/2009. Posts: 34
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Posted by dawemmy on 26/1/2010 at 10:33

I posted this in another topic:

Might I add: I am female, Having lived in Myanmar for 4 years I can say that Myanmar is probably the safest place in SE Asia to travel. The people are too scared to hurt you and the police will always be on your side.

Yes time is needed but buses and such are more timely now.
Flying sometime is only marginally more expensive.
Check out my second home in Yangon--the Ocean Pearl Inn, tell Uncle Hein that Emmy sent you and they do free pick up too.

Americans are required to apply for visas in person in BKK, there can be a short interview, or at least an up and down lookover.

Stick around Yangon if you have a short time--golden rock, Bago, Mouleinmang.

Always check prices--the Myanmar are very friendly anyway.

Previously I wrote:

I just want to give you some facts and 1 piece of advice.
Try Air Asia for cheap tickets or Bangkok airways or Myanmar Airways, I fly Thai--preference only.

BKK-YGN then transfer to Mandalay is an all day affair--expect to actually be in your hotel room around 3pm if you catch the 7 am fight out of BKK.

You can get a domestic flight by walking out of the int'l terminal, go to the left and the domestic terminal is about 150 yards. Book at the counter.

The Mandalay airport is 45 min to 1 hour outside of Mandalay--the taxi fee was 21,000 kyats or about $20. try to find a share. coming back go to 7 diamond travel in downtown Mandalay--book a taxi going to the airport for about 7,000 kyats (return of course is 21,000)

Don't worry there are always seats available--flights by Bagan Air, air Mandalay, yangon airways should be about 85 usd (the last time I travelled).

If you want to book a domestic flight Sun Far travel on Thanon Pan in Bangkok has an office, I think Columbus travel also has an office.

Booking at the travel agencies inside of Yangon is cheaper than the counter or outside of Myanmar.

I have used Sun Far at the Sakura Tower across from the Traders hotel, they are eficient and popular with the locals.

Taking the Bus: there are night buses for Inle lake and Mandalay. There is a bus that runs from Bagan to Inle. Check it out at my friend Sabei's travel agency-Zone Express Travel--contact me for an email. She can also help make arrangements with MTT if you want to exit through Taichilek.

The River may be too low for travel during this time.
You don't have enough time to travel by train and it's a bit expensive for foreigners.

Now, may I suggest that you increase the time to 2 weeks. In two weeks I think you could manage this:

Arrive Yangon, transfer hotel, book flight and see Shwe Dagon (it's beautiful at night)

Next day, fly to Bagan, 2 days minimum. (Bagan airport is about 20 minutes to hotels and around 5,000 kyats)

Fly to Mandalay (about $40 on Bagan air) 3 days minimum--see 1. Amapura, Inwa, UPein Bridge 2. Cycle Around Mandalay 3. Mingun or Sagaing
(if you rented a taxi for the day you could fit in #'s 1 and Sagaing in)

Refresh in Pyin U Lwin stay 1 night(ask Sabei about the shared taxi services--Cheap!)See gardens--hike anisikan falls or water cave.

All day ride to HsiPaw, hike around 1 1/2 days.
Travel back to Mandalay.

Night bus to Inle but get off at Kalaw--2 days hike to Inle lake.

Inle lake , only 2 days are needed.

[here you can go to Taungyi then exit to Taichilek]

Return Mandalay: Rest
Night Bus to Yangon, but get off at Bago
1 day in Bago--in the evening--take local transport to Yangon.
Look around Yangon but don't go anywhere near you know who's house!
Take a night out to BKK. (thai air or myanmar air)
That's 16 days of hard travel!

Of course you could cut Bago.
You could cut Hsipaw or or Kalaw--but not both!

Good luck
Mandalay is my Pied de Terre

#12 dawemmy has been a member since 12/1/2010. Posts: 9
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Posted by kyawsoewin007 on 16/7/2010 at 15:56

This is local expert for Burma.Please visit for your tour to Myanmar. .

#13 kyawsoewin007 has been a member since 13/7/2010. Posts: 9

Posted by kkym on 17/7/2010 at 15:32

Have you already read "Crash Course Burma: What you Need to Know Before you Go" just under your topic. A little bit out of date but all general information are Okay. The following links may help you.

#14 kkym has been a member since 6/4/2010. Location: Myanmar / Burma. Posts: 25

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